Our Hope amid Suffering
I have buried too many children in my ministry. I have watched helpless parents weep in torment. I have seen hopelessness face-to-face. I have seen cancer leave its calling card on ravaged bodies. I have seen dementia claim the lives of tortured souls. I have felt the destructive force of mental and physical abuse. I have seen and experienced suffering. It is a pitiless force of nature, sweeping aside all in its inexorable path. We can’t escape its grasp. We can never run fast enough. We can never shut our eyes tight enough. We know, if we live long enough, that one day it will come knock at our door.
Thankfully, the Bible is no stranger to these things. The Apostle Peter wrote a letter of encouragement thirty years after Christ’s death to the beleaguered Christians of Asia Minor. They were being abused by overbearing bosses (2:18), threatened by unbelieving spouses (3:1, 6), and ridiculed by skeptical neighbors and associates (4:14). On the horizon loomed the possibility of a much more violent form of persecution—a fiery ordeal (4:12–18). They were suffering, and they would suffer yet more. What were they to do?
Peter’s response in 1 Peter 1:3 sounds glib to the modern ear. “Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How helpful is that to Jane battling cancer? Or what about John whose father was killed in an accident at work? Why should they, and we, be blessing God? What have we got to bless God for?
According to Peter, we ought to bless God because of His great mercy to us in rescuing us through Jesus. He has given us new birth. We may not feel it, but our salvation is an act of God’s great mercy. We deserve death, yet He gives us life. We deserve punishment, yet He has achieved a great reward for us. We should bless God that our souls are safe in His hands. That is something that far outweighs all of our slight and momentary troubles. We have a God who has rescued us, even when we don’t feel rescued.
But there’s more. Peter writes,
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:13)
Some people fill in their lottery tickets, lie back on their sofa, and hope their numbers will finally come in. But such a hope is uncertain, and it is temporary even if it comes to pass. Our hope is so certain that it actually lives. Our joy and certain hope for the future are tied up in the fact that He rose again (1:20–21). Don’t forget, Peter was a guy whose whole life was crushed when Jesus was killed. All of Peter’s greatest hopes died with Jesus. But then he heard the news of the resurrection and went running to the tomb to see for himself. Despite Peter’s denial of Christ, our Lord came to Peter in the upper room and once again his hope rose with Him. Like Peter, we have a living hope that is:
Can never be defiled
Will never fade
Kept in heaven for us
Compare that to our earthly experiences. We live for an age and then we die. Not so our inheritance from God. It never decays. It is completely indestructible. That’s why the Lord encourages us in Matthew 6:19–20:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Several years ago, a Scotsman won about six million British pounds from the lottery. Within ten years, it was gone, squandered on bad deals. As a result, he was left penniless. Our inheritance, on the other hand, can never be used up. It is an inexhaustible, eternal treasure trove. How so? Because what has been secured for us is stored in the safest and most secure place imaginable. It is impregnable. Even though we will only fully receive it on the last day, it is ready for us even now. It is finished, perfect, and unchangeable. And it is reserved for each of us who have been chosen according to His great foreknowledge and love.
Whatever else we lose in this life, we cannot lose our salvation. It is cancer proof. It is abuse proof. It is even death proof. These are the truths we run to when life kicks us in the teeth. When a relationship is shattered, when the dreams of what we wanted to be in life have been eaten away and eroded by the sands of time; when our health fails, when we feel like nobody cares anymore, when all seems lost—the Christian still has reasons to hope. We hang fast to Jesus. Keep our eyes fixed on Him. We have a wonderful Savior. He will never let us down. He’s done all the hard work and one day we will cash in—even if for a little while we have troubles.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10–11)